At every turn, the fashion industry’s key players are using their social platforms to call out its biggest issues — racism, sexual harassment, body diversity — both on and off the catwalk. But as brought up most recently by editors at The Cut and Fashionista, the streets are still a popularity contest: those in the photos are thin, white, and famous. On top of ebbing interest in street style as an outlet for inspiration, it’d seem the art of documenting current trends, and the people who wear them, feels more dated than ever. But it’s going to take more than outrage to fix them, because diversity in street style is much more complicated to achieve than diversity on the runways. But don’t take our word for it.
After asking a group of street style photographers, from Tommy Ton to Melodie Jeng, a series of questions on the state of diversity in the industry, the imbalance between diversity on the runway and the streets, and just why we’re all so angry, their answers highlight a problem that inspires a lot of tweets, but no real solutions. Not everyone agreed to comment, with a few of them not even allowed to by the publications that employ them.
In the beginning, we liked street style because it wasn’t about celebrities — it was about real people. But then real people became celebrities and iPhones replaced a craft that, like most things in fashion, was forced to evolve. Because of this, we’re seeing the unconscious bias play out in street style as it did with runway, and the focus of the industry’s criticism has shifted. Not until now are people starting to notice the real trends — and we’re not talking about clothes.
The homogenization of street style is more obvious to those who don’t get their photos taken as often as others — or never — than it is to those who attribute it to part of their status. None of this, however, changes the fact that getting one’s photo taken has always been, and remains to be, a compliment (and a privilege, to some).
So, why do certain people get shot and others ignored? Is it the photographers’ fault? The photo editors? Or is it the PR houses who put together the guest lists? Because unlike the runways, there’s an element of reality in street style that gives a much more accurate read on whether the industry actually is as diverse as it says it wants to be. If we expanded our view on what constitutes an outfit worth shooting, would it show a more diverse street scene? Or would it be more of the same?
There’s much to glean from the interviews ahead, especially when it comes to who has the final say in what gets published, but what ends up on the cutting room floor says as much as what actually gets posted. So, if fashion photography is supposed to reflect the time, then maybe it does. Accompanied by the photos they chose to represent their points of view, here’s what the photographers want you to know.